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#1333 · 5
· on Of Suns and Moons
It looks like if I reply to Remedyfortheheart's post directly, it's going to categorize it under a different story (the one he/she was reviewing when he/she wrote the comment), so let me respond here where it's relevant and then link back:

Blantly just saying "read a writing guide" doesn't help anyone. If you know the basics of writing than please point it out. Because going straight to this very same phrase can be highly insulting.

Yeah, I get that—but I say that when I literally hit a point where I don't know what else to say. It's not meant as an insult, it's meant as: "I'm going to need a very large number of words to go into detail on the issues I'm seeing that are keeping this story from flying, and other people have already written those words, and they can probably do a better job than me because they were really focusing on delivering this information well when they wrote those words."

Full disclosure, one of the very first things I did after joining the Friendship is Magic fanfiction community was to find three or four in-fandom writing guides (Ezn's that I listed above, the old Equestria Daily guide, and a couple others I don't remember and that aren't well linked) and read through them in detail. A lot of the material was well-known to me, but I find that it's usually helpful to refresh the basics every once in a while. I definitely feel like I learned good stuff doing that.

I guess telling you there's a helpful link you can look at may be a bit scattershot, though, so here in particular are the sections I think it'd be helpful for you to read. Fixing these issues is not going to fix this story, though. It's going to move this story to a place where it's easier to discuss the underlying issues. But until these sorts of issues get fixed, the larger issues don't really matter in my opinion. It's like a car. Say you've got a broken sparkplug that's making your engine misfire from time to time, and you've also got two flat tires. Your car could function with the broken sparkplug, but that's still a problem you should get fixed. Until you get some new tires, though, worrying about the sparkplug is pointless.

Anyway, I promised a more thorough list of where I thought you should be focusing your attention. Here are some more links to Ezn's writing guide, based on particular subsections:

Said tags and action tags – Ways to make your dialogue flow better.

Ways to deal with your sentence fragments

Being laconic – One way to cut down your word chaff

Lavender Unicorn Syndrome (and more generally purple prose)– A problem that distracts your reader for no purpose and clutters your prose, and that's very common in this story.

Showing vs. telling – This isn't pervasive, but it's frequent. I think it comes up most often when you show the reader something (say through dialogue) and then proceed to waste a sentence telling the reader the same thing you just showed them.

Pacing – This is a 6800-word story with very little plot or characterization in it. All the things that happen here can be summed up as: Celestia and Luna arrive from Equestria, they go looking for their EqG counterparts, they discover the students are weird, Sunset helps them find their goal, they all talk offscreen, they take Sunset's magic away, they go back to Equestria with Sunset.. Now, that could totally get blown up into a detailed story at this length, but you're investing very few words on the critical elements there, as opposed to things like descriptions that aren't carrying their weight. The whole section with Celestia and Luna interacting with Canterlot High students also doesn't connect up to the main story anywhere, even in terms of establishing a tone, and it takes a big chunk of words here. Point is, the pacing here doesn't work and you need to be focusing in on your core story and seeing how best to lead the reader through that.

Plot – Like I said above, you need to be focusing on this more as you write. It's the backbone of your story, and the central conflict (the reason Celestia and Luna are coming to Canterlot High) isn't even discussed until Sunset shows up, about halfway through the story. You might also want to look at what Ezn says about the Sad genre because the climax of your story is running into the sorts of problems described there.

I think reading the whole thing would be useful, and I think reading Winston's more abstract discussion of writing (which wasn't around when I got into this stuff) would be good too. But when I said "I think the best advice I can give you is just to go read a good writing guide," I meant it. They cover a lot, especially the basics. It doesn't matter how much I talk about multitasking with your dialogue and description, or approaches to establishing sympathy for your characters—until you deal with the basic issues, none of that will matter or improve this story in the least. I wasn't trying to be flippant, I was trying to give you the best advice I could.
#1507 · 5
· on The Necromancer's Wife
A couple points for >>Monokeras:

"Wrought iron" isn't the author using fancy language, it's an actual thing. You might recognize it from, ohh, the Eiffel Tower.

"Pinkie promise" actually predates My Little Pony, and is traditionally a promise made between two people while linking their hands by their pinkie fingers (the last finger on the hand). Traditionally, it doesn't involve any cupcakes.

On the fight scene, I'd sort of decided where my problems with this story were before that point, but I'll echo what a lot of other readers seem to be saying. My problem is less that it was janky, as >>Icenrose described it (though I think there's some fair criticism there). It's more that the fight is always a fait accompli without a whole lot of back and forth.

I could give some detailed discussion on this, but I think I'm just going to take the easy way out and link to one of my old Fimfiction blog posts where I talked about writing fight scenes. I know, it's lazy and a little lame to go posting links to my Fimfic account on someone else's story, but I'm not going to be able to do a better job talking about them here than I did there, so I feel like this is really the optimal way to go.
#1559 · 5
· on Landscape Photography · >>horizon >>Southpaw
...well, this has turned into kind of a weird conversation.

Okay, y'all, this story is not all that good. I'm totally cool with it not making the cut. For once, I think I'm going to post a recap blog on this guy, now that my anonymity is gone. (Some of that is because I'm starting to think maybe this is worth trying to salvage into something, given the reaction; last night I was just thinking of tossing this on the junk heap.) So if I'm going to be perfectly honest, here are what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of this story.

- Nice prose
- Nice tone

- Lack of character building (all told, nothing shown)
- Weak world-building (Sec.4 explanation feels unmoored to the rest of the story)
- Lack of conflict and plot
- Loose theme (I have an emotion I was shooting for, but I couldn't put clear theme into words here)

That's just on the top level. I'd also quibble with the balance of foreshadowing—I didn't really start in on the "humanity in retreat" thing until Sec.3, largely because I didn't settle on it until at least Sec.2. I agree with >>Ferd Threstle's two major points about the use of Pripyat and the choice to describe the final photo as compositionally perfect. There are a few other issues readers have brought up as well, though I think I'll break a couple of these out for a longer discussion.

>>TitaniumDragon mentions that the first scene with the (not directly named) Moeraki boulders doesn't tie into the overall story very well, which I consider an excellent catch. I know it's kind of lame, but this is the first serious writing I've accomplished in about six months, and that first scene was me trying to ease myself into something. I took the old "write what you know" dictum and minimally modified an actual event from my life. You can see the photo I took here—I think it's probably about the best shot I've ever managed. (I dropped or changed a few surface details, like the fact that it was actually a fairly lame digital camera that I used, and that I sat in the car for about half an hour playing PSP games, waiting for sunrise to get closer—hey, what is artistic license for?) Anyway, point here being that I strongly agree with TD's call about Sec.1 not really tying into the other sections except tonally. That's a thing that needs fixing. I should be foreshadowing a lot more stuff in this section, and I'll need to think about how to do so.

I also thought >>Southpaw caught a couple good points, but the ones that hit home for me largely made it into my self-review above. (I actually disagree with the Nikon thing; I like having the proper noun to change up the wordspace a little and provide a bit of extra concretization.) I definitely agree that Sec.1 and Sec.3 aren't really pulling their weight narratively—but then again, the overall absence of narrative is one of the larger problems in this story, to me, when you compare it to one of this round's really excellent entries like "The Precession of the (Goddamn) Equinoxes" or "The Name Upon his Forehead". It also seems like a few readers thought the photographer was using the same roll of film the whole time. I think I need to do more to make sure I don't accidentally leave that impression. He talks about having many rolls of film in Sec.1, but it's a throwaway comment with a lot less narrative importance than the Sec.3 stuff that sticks in people's heads.

>>Baal Bunny's comment was one of those, "Dammit, Mike, I hate you but I love you" things. I'd decided on the overall structure for the story fairly early: three photographic sections, broken up with two introspective ones. I got into the middle of writing the second introspective one, didn't particularly like how it was going, and in particular found that I really didn't like the mixing between the two ideas there. But I'd already basically written the section, and I didn't have a lot of good ideas for what else to do with the space or how to make the story there work better, so I wrote a couple extra sentences in the section to try to paper over some of the problems and left it as is. I'm glad I got called on it, though; it's easy to assume your quick-fixes work when you've already looked at a spot and messed with it. It's good to hear you still didn't really fix the larger issue underneath.

And of course I agree with everything >>horizon says, because horizon is a frickin' genius. I tried to drop some timing information in the Kolmanskuppe section, about how many years it had been since Namibian diamond mining was a major industry with German settlers. Why on earth I thought this would be sufficient information for anybody to infer a timeline is completely beyond me—it's not like I wasn't on Wikipedia when I wrote it, trying to pin that stuff down. Who here is going to know enough about diamond mining in southern Africa to pin down a timeframe based on that? The choice to make the Nikon a hand-me-down from the photographer's father was supposed to get at the first timing issue raised, though I obviously could have made that more textual. Given that it's got some good characterization value in it, not making it more textual was kind of dumb. The Pripyat thing, too, if you've *cough* watched a few documentaries on it *cough* you might know that there are already some families living out in the exclusion zone. It's a lot of free land, and a lot of it isn't actually that bad. So, at least to me, there's really no suggestion with Pripyat that we'd be moving thousands of years into the future until parts of the radiation really started dying down. I was also trying for this subtle idea that the photographer was going there to view the more radioactive parts of the plant, knowing he'd die but wanting to experience this sort of holy grail of human places without humanity. I'd wanted to tie in thoughts about the film being useless because he knew that it'd be ruined as soon as he went inside the plant, too. But things really didn't come together here, because I also wanted to confront him with people and make him change his mind, and it just didn't seem to make a lot of sense to have him expositing about all the bad things that'll happen and then completely changing what does happen.

Anyway, the Pripyat section is just a mess in a lot of ways. There are elements of it I like, but those are mostly the character, plot, and theme elements that I finally started using a bit there after skipping over them in the first four sections. I'll probably pick a new setting and redo that entirely. Given that this is supposed to be a future setting, I think it's really kind of dumb to not be walking the photographer through one or more places that tell stories about that unknown future we haven't seen.

This guy's probably going to take a lot of work, but at least I think y'all have convinced me that it's not a complete lost cause.
#1456 · 4
· · >>The_Letter_J
Or if you really have no morals, you could give your own story a glowing review to try to influence other people's opinions of it. But in addition to their questionable ethicality, a review like these could easily backfire, and will probably only work once anyway.

Oh really? I pretty much do this every writeoff. :derpytongue:

More seriously, though, I find reviewing your own story to be... an interesting experience. It definitely does let you highlight things you thought were important that other people were missing, or push back against what you think are basic misunderstandings. At the same time, I'm mostly in the Death of the Author camp, so I tend to feel like if you want/need to do either of these things, your story is failing on a fundamental level anyway (though of course it's perfectly reasonable to have one or two readers who completely miss the point—but if everyone's missing the point, that's probably not an issue with your readers).

There are also a lot of little considerations you have to worry about on doing a self-review well, I think. I know there are some very specific differences between my self-reviews and my normal reviews, and I'm not going to mention what they are because I think y'all might well be able to identify me based on the tells I've noticed, even though I've been working to cover them up. And like J said, I live between I and K being too positive on your own story can work out badly sometimes. I think one of the more common tells is when someone nitpicks a minor point that doesn't really speak much to the overall quality of the story—though this happens in conventional reviews quite a bit as well.

And there's the question of when you do it. I've wanted to drop the first review on one of my stories for a while, but that can be particularly dangerous since I often don't have a good sense for what the reaction to my story is going to be. Jumping in and joining the consensus later is much easier, because you can blend in with the crowd and share insights from other reviewers as if they were your own. On the other hand, for someone like me who makes a point of avoiding reviews on stories he hasn't read until after he's gone through the story[1], one easy tell to develop is to respond to other people's comments in your review of your own story while not doing it in your reviews of anything else.

tl;dr reviewing your own story is an art.


[1] Speaking of, Roger, I just want to say that I adore the story-linked comment setup. It's really nice to be able to finish a story, add my review, and then immediately read what other people thought and respond to their comments if I feel like it. This is one of my favorite features of the new site structure you've got going on. Thank you!
#1486 · 4
· on Don't You Cry For Me · >>Solitair >>Monokeras >>Dubs_Rewatcher
22 – Don't You Cry For Me

Author, I want you to be aware that this is what went down on Writeoff Chat just prior to me reading your story:

BRADEL – Well, let's see what happens if I add another to my slate. Somebody may be about to get happy.
BRADEL – "Don't You Cry for Me". I guess you're off the hook, Mono.
DUBS REWATCHER – @Brad Let's see if you think it's as good as everyone else is saying
OBLOMOV – inb4 Bradel destroys the story

With that in mind, let's see what happens when Bradel Tries to Take Down Everyone's Favorite Story. (No, really, I'll try to enjoy it just like I try to enjoy everything else, I promise.)

So, the hook. Missing word at the end of sentence two. I laughed at the idea of fresh air and less crime constituting an adventure. I feel like your intro could be a little smoother prose-wise, but I'm honestly pretty happy with it. It's giving me a lot of information and it's getting me curious enough about the characters to want to move forward. You can't ask for a whole lot more than that.

Yeah, this is a very solid start. Paragraph three is especially excellent. There's another missing word in paragraph four, though.

From the hiding-in-her-room bit, I was assuming May was the younger of the two, but based on the arrival dynamic, she's starting to look like the older. No real suggestions on this, but I think it's worth noting.

I may be a little neurotic, but I'm really disturbed that nobody cleaned up May's stir fry that was leaking on the floor.

The characterization on Claire is generally good, but every once in a while it goes a little wonky for me. For example, the backpack of stuffed animals and the stuffed animals on the bed are great to me, and I feel like the overall characterization here is of a little adult that's not fully equipped to deal with the world (which is generally a characterization I like on kids). Why do I mention the stuffed animals? Because when you move somewhere, you bring your life necessities, whatever those may be. Books, a television, a computer, cooking tools, etc. The two stuffed animals bits make me feel like Claire's stuffed animals are serving as something of her critical life tools, which is an attitude I can see a kid unconsciously having in her situation. (The situation itself is great, in that it creates a lot of conflict and tension immediately, and leaves me wanting to see what develops. I don't think you're necessarily doing a lot of heavy lifting to motivate my attention, but I'm frankly fine with that. If you've got a nice trick like a story premise that can do that heavy lifting for you, take advantage of it.)

Anyway, I was saying the characterization occasionally gets wonky for me. When Claire needs to explain to May that they live next to a graveyard, she definitely comes off as the more intellectually mature of the two (especially given my lack of clarity on ages through that section). Claire takes ripping her skirt very calmly, like it's just another thing to be taken in stride—which is in keeping with her characterization, but still feels kind of weird for a nine-year-old under considerable stress, to me. And she pays enough attention to the grunge friends' conversations to report back to the reader on Kurt Cobain, which just doesn't seem like the sort of thing a nine-year-old would care about enough to report—it feels like a clear fourth-wall break. Certain metaphors also feel strange coming from a nine-year-old. Metaphor is a hard tool to lose as a writer, but I just don't know how much I can buy a nine-year-old being able to consistently think with that level of abstraction.

This is another really minor thing, but every time you use the verb flew/fly to describe Claire's motions, it throws me a little. Obviously it's supposed to feel abrupt, but it's so at odds with the discursive narrative around it that it just feels off to me. (If I were in the business of suggesting, which I totally am, I'd suggest playing around with sentence lengths so the piece has more variable pacing based on the emotions you're trying to evoke in specific scenes and passages. If it's reflective, sure, use long and slow sentences. But when something's caught Claire's attention or gotten her stress level up (or is about to), maybe try moving to shorter and more direct sentences.)

Timing: I got really thrown off by the timeline of all this for a moment. I think the culprit is "It had been four months" (do a search on it), which in hindsight is supposed to refer to how long it's been since the fire, but I read as how long it's been since the move. When there's a later comment on Valentine's Day, I'd felt like the calendar had gone all screwy.

Well guys, that's the best I can do—some nitpicking on fairly limited or advanced stuff. This is just a plain old good, solid story. It's got an actual arc to it, including a climax where it pays off emotional tension it really does earn. I teared up for a fraction of a second at the end—even my cold, scarred, editorially excessive heart can be touched. It's just good.

This is recapitulating, but there are only two real weaknesses I see here: Claire coming off as a little too adult with no clear rationale (like a frame story where she's older and recounting this), and the generally monotone sentence pacing that leaves some of the more urgent moments a little flat. But those are some pretty high-level issues to me. This probably won't go to the top of my ballot, simply because I'm not that enamored with it as a story, for all its good execution. I think I'd like to see it shooting for a higher bar, like my current ballot leader. But this sort of solidity and execution definitely deserves some reward in my opinion. Good job, Author.

HORSE: Decline to rate
TIER: Top Contender (which I'm apparently giving out like candy this round)
#1498 · 4
· on Encounter at dusk · >>horizon >>Monokeras
I'm using horizon's HORSE rating system, which you can learn more about here.

17 – Encounter at dusk

There's a lot of good stuff going on in the opening here, but it could use a heavy tightening pass. You hook my interest in where the story is headed, but I'm actually going to do something a little weird here and really dig into the first paragraph, because based on content, I suspect the best advice I can give you here is going to be some precise prose targetting. So here's that paragraph:

I try to bury the metal splinters strewn all over the ground around me under a layer of dead leaves. This might be superfluous, though, as I run no great risk: even if a hunter or a stray farmer found them, they wouldn’t catch their attention for more than a few seconds. To the naked eye, they are just polished shards of some grey metal. Only the microscope could reveal them for what they really are.

First sentence: you're adding a lot of extra words, mostly in prepositional phrases, that don't add any meaning. Generally clunky, though the real flag for me here is that you don't fully concretize your hypothetical, which mostly wastes space (a small case could be made that having both hunter and farmer in ther adds setting info, but I think you can do better adding more novel setting info elsewhere). Second sentence also has a they/their pair where those two pronouns refer to different things. General tightening in sentences three and four. Also, drop the low-information cliche in the end of sentence four. If I were going to pare this down without making major changes, it'd probably look something like:

I try to bury the metal splinters strewn over the ground beneath a layer of dead leaves. This might be unnecessary, though, as I run no great risk: even if a hunter found them, they wouldn't catch his attention for more than a few seconds. To the naked eye, they are just polished shards of grey metal. Only a microscope could reveal their true nature.

If this were me, I'd go even farther and do some rewording, and I might end up with:

I bury the metal splinters under a layer of dead leaves. Perhaps I am being too cautious. Even if a hunter found them, to the naked eye they are no more than polished shards of grey metal. Only a microscope could reveal their true nature.

That's a 40% reduction in word count, and the only pieces of information you've lost are that there were many splinters scattered around the perspective character, and that farmers are a common part of this setting. I think it's likely that both of these are acceptable casualties. Anyway, let's drop the workshopping and get back to the story.

There's some occasional usage oddity here (which makes me wonder if I might have hit Monokeras's story finally, after all his exhuberant protestations). Author, if the issues here are stemming from EFL, I'd get a native speaker's eyes on this for some proofreading. If the issues are simply a lack of editing time, I'd go with the read-aloud trick to try catching them. Either way, they seem pretty minor—but consistent enough to be worth a quick mention.

It's a story about Joan of Arc? Okay, thinking Monokeras even more strongly now...

I hope I'm not being led astray by my authorial suspicions, but really a lot of the problems I'm flagging with this story are very small things like word choices that carry weird information, like using "giggle" for the perspective character, which sounds very strange in the context of the way this character has been acting in the story. A laugh would be perfectly reasonable, a giggle carries some very different character information for me. Anyway, I'm going to skip out of text-edit mode now, read some more, and move on to larger issues.

I'm enjoying the pace and the scene selection here. The story moves at a pretty good clip, and there's usually something fun to read ever couple hundred words. I think the area I'm seeing the most trouble is in the characterization, primarily through the dialogue. You've got two very different characters here, but both speak in a way that feels modern and colloquial, and belies their fundamental differences. I feel like you've definitely begun working on giving the characters' dialogue content that makes sense for their situation and personalities (e.g. the way they both approach theological matters), but it's important to get the tone of their dialogue to match as well. Is one more serious than the other? Is one able to make better logical arguments than the other? Is one more prone to angry outbursts, or to trying for humor? Thinking about the tone adopted by your characters in dialogue will help make them more real and better separated to the reader. (Also, you've got a lot of colloquial phrases running around, both in and out of dialogue. Clichés are usually best avoided in writing, and I personally feel like your writing would be improved pretty much every time you're using one if you'd avoided the cliché and gone for something more direct.)

I was wondering exactly where this was heading. I do think I like that as a stopping point.

Okay, upsides here: The pacing of the story keeps me moving along well, and I never felt like it really dragged. There are a number of sections where I actually quite enjoyed the prose. I'm pretty happy with the scene selection inasmuch as there's usually something interesting happening, even if it's just a boar fight.

Downsides: I definitely would have liked better foreshadowing of the reveal in the second-to-last section. I know there was a little, about what would happen if England won this war, but it turns out that this is as much of a key thread in the story as all the Joan of Arc stuff, and so it definitely feels a little undercooked. Word choice issues, as mentioned. Characterization issues, as mentioned. We get to spend a good amount of time with John and Joan, but I don't feel like they ever have to confront issues that really make us come to understand them well as characters. Joan has a crisis of faith at one point, which is probably the right type of thing to do, but which felt a little overblown to me since it seemed to mostly come out of the blue. And finally, overall plot structure. There's really never a clear conflict that needs resolving here. John is trying to get Joan to Chinon, and they interact along the way, but there's never a clear indication that Joan's destiny at Chinon might be threatened in any way, through her inability to get there, or through the wrong events unfolding once she did. The only real spot where it seems like there might be conflict around preventing this is when John kills his counterpart, and this happens suddenly and without much foreshadowing, so there isn't really any tension or release tied to this since it's all so sudden.

My advice for future stories would be to work on building a stronger framework in terms of plot and character. Do some hard-core outlining before you get into the writing—even if it's for the write-off. A shorter story with a strong outline on the plot/character front is going to serve you better in the long run. The English issues are troublesome, but they're also the sorts of things you should be able to iron out through your own editing, or with the help of some editors/friends who have an easier time with some of that stuff than you may. At this point I'd say the larger, structural issues are where you should be concentrating most of your attention.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Flawed but Fun
#1268 · 3
· on Knights and Dragons · >>Monokeras
Okay, let's do this thing!

2 – Knights and Dragons

I'm assuming, based on the hook, that this is going to be a comedy. The first two sentences only make logical sense in the context of the cliche of the hero's journey, but they break down if you think about them. (Why would finding the Princess mean that the Knight had nothing else he had to do? The idea of the Princess as the end-goal of his existence is... depressing and kind of kills his character's agency.) So here's hoping this is getting played to subvert the cliche.

Okay, with the bat, cracker, and drop of water line it looks like this is definitely getting played for laughs. Good tonal setup, then. I think you could probably bring the cliche to the fore a little more strongly, but your instincts have been good so far. The humor isn't playing great for me here, though—particularly that bat, cracker, drop of water line. It's too non-sequitor to really be funny to me, and it doesn't seem very cohesive with the rest of the piece except inasmuch as it's the clearest indication of the story's tone. I'd try looking for some humor that can more directly expand our understanding of the world or the characters. The fact that a bat, a cracker, and a drop of water are being beheaded suggests a very strange world, but there's no follow-through on that point.

There's a serious lack of clarity in the line: "To be fair, it was on the small side." I read this as a comment about the arrow, suggesting that it wouldn't do any damage. But it looks like it was about the dragon, and the arrow killed it. This isn't the only case of loose phrasing I'm seeing—the charge, in particular, stands out, though you do a good job cleaning that up immediately. It's a thing I'd suggest watching for as you edit, though.

"'Go away you religious numbnut!'" is another non-sequitor. It doesn't seem to have any relation to what we've seein in the story, so it's kind of a hanging piece of character elaboration without any connective tissue (i.e. classic telling without showing). On the other hand, "People loved the King, but they feared him early in the morning" is a great line in my opinion. It carries a wonderful amount of information and humor for a character introduction.

Similarly, I like the "we would not be having this conversation"s. There's a great double-meaning hanging out in there, and I think it says a lot about both characters.

Why do the characters suddenly get names in the last 200 words? This really rubs me the wrong way. If they were going to get names, what was the point of going 2000 words without them?

Through to the end. Overall impression here: I like the characters, but not a whole lot else. Everything that happens here is pretty predictable and cliche, and fairly loosely executed. This needs a lot of structural and prose tightening.

That said, I did genuinely enjoy the Knight and the Princess. I think you could get a lot more mileage out of them by really playing more to type, though. The Knight is the living embodiment of the medieval cliche, down to all the ancillary idiocy. He's a bit like the opposite of John Steinbeck's Lancelot. There's some good comedy potential there, especially when you play him off against the Princess who's exactly the opposite—refusing to be bound by the cliche and living her life the way she wants. The conversation between them is one of the highlights of this story (though much of it could still be substantially improved).

I expect that this will end up low on my ballot, but you're showing some good instincts with characters here, author. You just need to refine that work and polish the rest of the story.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Needs Work
#1306 · 3
· on To Make a Choice · >>Aragon
15 – To Make a Choice

Awwww, yiss. Finally, a good hook! Author, you've got me. Now let's see if you can keep me.

Descriptions are solid, and contributing to characterization and tone (at least, maybe more). The paragraph on the houses is a great piece. Biggest complaint early on is the overabundance of he's and him's. It makes following the flow of the story dashed difficult in places, trying to figure out which of the three male characters in the beginning is doing what. (Honestly, I think one of the best reasons for strong female characters in fiction is because writing is so much easier when you're flipping between he's and she's.)

This is moving at a very nice clip. It's doing a good job dropping just enough information to leave you questioning, wanting to know more. I think this could get tightened up a bit in editing, but this is a very solid start you've got here, author. ("Condescendence" isn't a word, though.)

Neal Stephenson's Anathem is one of my all-time favorite books, and it looks like the technology here is going exactly where that story went with Fraa Jad. This excites me. At the same time I know this story is only a couple thousand words long, so it can't do too much with that idea.

There's not a lot of surprise here, but this is a genre of story I'm pretty familiar with (and love). There is a lot to talk about, but I think I may skip past that and let other people start those conversations after they read it. I think the reason Ken can't change is pretty obvious, and I think the author is quite intentionally laying the seed for that in the middle of the text, though I'll be a litle curious what other people say. There's an interesting larger issue of what's really happening with this technology, too—and I've got my own metaphysical interpretation on that (which, yes, owes a lot to Anathem). But that's very extratextual, and at that point we're all just speculating about the story world rather than authorial intent.

Which I'm fine with.

Okay, final verdict. This is far and away the best story I've read in my first five. It's a little hard to judge whether that puts it at Solid or Top Contender. I'm going to edge toward Top Contender here, though—because this is so much of the stuff I love; because despite being a nearly pure idea story, it's still got a lot of solid characterization and a nice, simple frame story; and because at the end I find myself thinking about the world described a lot more than I'm thinking about what the author did here. Those are all signs of a very good story to me.

Excellent job, author.

HORSE: ▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉▉
TIER: Top Contender
#1379 · 3
· on Revolver · >>RogerDodger
Has anyone noticed that any time a story gets over 10 comments this round, it gets disqualified?

#1402 · 3
· on /ˈmiːm/ · >>Orbiting_kettle
I'm using horizon's HORSE rating system, which you can learn more about here.

18 – /ˈmiːm/

I'm definitely a fan of the information density at the start here, though I think you've set the learning curve a little more steeply than I'd recommend. In particular, that third sentence (with the map) really throws me off because it's assuming a lot of information about things like method of travel that is nowhere on display before that point. The sentence structure gets a little clunky through repetition, and I think you could make the information pill section a bit more active. I know I'm being very nitpicky here, but you're setting yourself up with some excellent ideas in that first paragraph and if you're looking to shop this story around, I think you're going to get a lot of mileage out of polishing the first few paragraphs here until they're fluid and crystal clear.

Damn, man, this is good. I'm about five paragraphs here, and you're really hitting this out of the park with some very subtle, specific word choices: agents, instances. You're getting some tremendous buy-in out of me with these words. Whoever wrote this, good job.

"Hags" feels off to me. It's carrying a lot of unearned character information that throws me out of perspective a hair, and with this learning curve I feel like I need to be really focused. I think it's especially worth pointing this out, though, because I think this marks a thing you could potentially be doing better in your lead-in. I said I liked the word choice; that's because it's carrying a lot of setting information. It's not carrying a whole lot of character information yet, though, and if I've got one complaint with the start of this story, it's that the perspective character feels like a blank slate. I'm seeing her interact with her environment, but I don't have much sense of who she is aside from "a person who's habitually using betting markets"—and the text seems to strongly imply that that's so normative that it's not really good character information in this setting. Anyway, point being, think about editing this first section to get some more character content out of your words. It's going to boost the value here.

Actually, while I'm still on about the intro, you might consider paring down some of these sentences for readability—again because of the learning curve. I think the more attention you can leave for the reader to apply to learning your setting fast, the more it's going to pay off down the line.

Baseball has been a solved game? Okay, that throws me. This world has to be a lot more alien than I'm giving it credit for, if a sport can be a solved game. Frankly, I don't really buy it and I don't know that this line is capable of not throwing me without considerably more justification (which probably isn't worth it).

Spotting a number of grammar and usage type issues here, but you should be able to pick those up when you start editing.

The characterization is getting fairly cliche here, and some of that is word and sentence choice again. The clay tablets bit and the Idiot box bit (why capital-I?) both fall in that bin. I connected with the ideas and the setting early on, but you're starting to lose me on character and plot as the novelty of the world wears off. I haven't found any compelling reason for hanging out with these people. (Writeoff Note: check out "To Make a Choice" for how to stick good character work in the middle of an idea story.)

Skipped on to the end. It's pretty rare for me to read a story that I think genuinely needs to be longer, but this is one of them. I like a lot of the ideas on display here, but (as I've been saying) I think this would benefit from a slower learning curve instead of the fusillade you've got going. Also, I think you need to do some more character establishment before we get into the meat of the story. I know, strong words, "you need to do"—but I genuinely think this is a must on this story. One of the biggest weaknesses here is that we never get much sense of who this is happening to. I get that you may want to keep it that way so we can hit the reveal at the end, but I still think you can give us a lot more than you're giving us. We don't need character backstory, but we do need character personality—especially if we're supposed to feel any impact with the fact that much of that personality may not be coming back.

There's a lot of potential here, but I feel like a lot of it is getting squandered with some loose execution. I think this could be a really great story after you've done some editing. That said, at the moment this winds up being a miss for me. I'll be curious to know what happens to this after the Writeoff ends.

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TIER: Almost There